How to Brag (Without Bragging): Blame it on Luck!

Lucky Charms: Magically Destructive

Lucky Charms: Image by Rainforest Action Network via Flickr

It’s a common challenge;  how do you talk about what you’ve done if you’ve done well without sounding like the jerk down the hall who everyone calls a cleetus maggot?

In a world where Cheat Your Way to the Top seems to be a common workplace theme song, being accurate and correctly portraying yourself and your accomplishments is critical for getting your fair due.

Talk small in a crowd of big talkers and people may think you’ve done little. Talk accurately and some of the light of accomplishment has a chance to shine on you.

The problem for my executive coaching client is not all that uncommon; despite a tough, challenging upbringing that would have broken most people, they had persevered and done well in work and home life. One great spouse and two wonderful kids later, they frequently felt a need to explain their good fortune.

In doing so though they took attention away from their accomplishments, denigrated their work, and were inaccurate in telling their story. Why would they do this? Like many people, they didn’t want to be seen as boasting – didn’t want to be know as “the other braggard” in the group.

The deeper issue is that along either spectrum (think easy going and highly assertive as one example), making some changes toward the other end of the spectrum can feel like you’re moving all the way to the other extreme. You’re not; it just feels that way.

So where one approach I might use would be to tweak some smaller behavioral changes and have the client move a little bit along the spectrum, that may be a tough move for some people. The change is uncomfortable, unnatural, and ultimately unsuccessful.

The other choice is a two step; one small change now, one small change later. And in the case of my client who reverts to explaining her good fortune, they’ll use a different tact. Instead of explaining they’ll blame (or credit) luck. So instead of a 3 minute diversion on how they were able to do things that perhaps other folks couldn’t, they’ll try mention luck: “I got my degree in 3 years instead of 4 because I was lucky to have all the coursework line up perfectly.” Or, “I was lucky enough to work with Steve Jobs because I happened to show up looking for a job when he was looking for someone with exactly my specific background.”

The strategy is a first step of two; once the client moves away from their previous tact of over-explaining her good fortune in detail to the a behavior of crediting luck, the next step is to drop the reference entirely; “I worked with Steve Jobs.”

Many times with executive coaching clients there’s a clear path to a simple change that significantly enhances their effectiveness. But sometimes, as in this case, it takes two small steps to reach the same result.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.

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